Art Basel’s $300m Success Comes In Part an Alternative to London’s Auctions

The overall impression of Art Basel has been one of great sales strength which raises the question of whether we’re finally seeing the pendulum of the art market swing back toward dealers from the auction houses.
Art fair sales rely on the voluntary disclosure of dealers, so there’s no telling whether sales are slipping by unrecorded or what the true value of the works traded is.
Nonetheless, as Colin Gleadell notes, the sales ranged from primary work by emerging artists in the low four figures to what Gleadell says are rumors of a $230m Rothko shown off booth and sold out of sight.
One fair-goer felt the Art Basel sales were substitutes for London’s small Contemporary auctions. That supposition is supported by the fact that some of the major sales at the booths were identified as works owned by mainstay consignors.
Gleadell makes this point, too, after a fashion when he compares the first two days of reported sales to Frieze week auction totals:

By the end of day two, the Art Market Monitor website had produced a list from various press sources of some 500 sales worth an estimated $300 million (£235 million), which is the equivalent of London’s Frieze week auctions.

(NB: Our Art Basel Sales Report isn’t yet complete as outlets like Gleadell continue to post un-reported sales.)
Another collector who made several offers at the fair reports that sales were hardly uniform. At White Cube, works by Wayne Thiebaud were flying with some sales as high as $1m for works on paper.
More difficult artists, such as Ryman and Twombly, are having mixed results. 
 Joan Mitchell sold very well, early on at the fair.
 The 5-6m Hockney at Richard Gray, as well as overpriced Calders, did not sell.


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